Society

Inside The Violent Youth Gangs Terrorizing Naples

Already a victim of organized crime and drug trafficking, Naples is now also facing wanton violence from disillusioned youth.

Walking in the streets of Naples
Francesco Grignetti

NAPLES — The last attack happened a few days ago in Naples' northern outskirts of Pomigliano d'Arco. A group of 10 teenagers viciously assaulted two fellow youths, aged 14 and 15, in an attempt to steal their cellphones. The Italian police managed to arrest two of the aggressors, aged 15 and 13, but the crime shocked the country. In and around the southern city of Naples, the story is just one of many.

The night before that assault, another youth gang attacked 15-year-old Gaetano in front of a metro station in the neighborhood of Chiaiano. The group of assailants, all minors, beat Gaetano so badly that he suffered a ruptured spleen.

"What shocks me most about those neighborhoods is the emptiness," says Naples police superintendent Antonio De Iesu. "There's no common public space, and these children live on the streets."

In Chiaiano, the emptiness stretches for miles. The metro station's sole staff member barricades himself inside his booth. Local police have checked the station's security camera footage for information on the incident, but no one has come forward to help identify the perpetrators. "Naples has a lot of at-risk areas, even in the city center, but these violent new generations are a serious problem," says de Iesu.

Gaetano lost his spleen after being rushed to the hospital for an emergency surgery. "It's a miracle my son is still alive," says his mother, Stella. "If anyone saw anything they should tell the authorities, this kind of attack should never happen again."

At 18%, Naples has one of the highest truancy rates in Europe. Some of the city's most well-known residents, including the sociologist Domenico De Masi and the anti-mob activist Roberto Saviano, have called these conditions "barbarous' and compared them to life in Afghanistan.

Jan. 17 anti-gangs protest in Naples — Photo: Fabio Sasso/ZUMA

The wave of assaults by youth gangs has shaken Naples for the past two months. The first attacks began in the city's notoriously violent nightlife, with the slightest of wrong looks precipitating savage bar fights. Residents living near drinking establishments began to protest, sparking a violent reaction from the gangs.

Mauro Bocassini, president of the residents' association in the Via Aiello neighborhood, is terrorized. He's had his tires slashed several times over the past few weeks and was viciously beaten last October. Five hooded youths broke in and vandalized his building, forcing him to request a police escort to go to the supermarket on Christmas Eve. "These days I spend more time at the police station than with my family," he told Naples-based newspaper Il Mattino.

He was a model student.

Arturo Iavarone, 17, was stabbed in the neck last December while walking on the central street of Via Foria. A gang of youth targeted him and began to push him before pulling out their knives. "Arturo is still traumatized and has trouble speaking," says his mother, Marisa. "But his schoolmates insist on him going back, and it will be good for him to get closer to normality."

Arturo was lucky to survive the attack and recently returned to school, where he was a model student. His experience has galvanized his classmates and other students in Naples to try to put an end to the senseless violence. Hundreds of students held protests before Christmas to denounce the youth gangs terrorizing the city.

"I fear we're only at the beginning of a dramatic wave of urban terrorism, which is spreading fear in our children," says Marisa. "Entire generations are growing up in a culture of violence, and their parents are supporting them."

So far, police have only arrested one of the minors accused of assaulting Arturo. Marisa Iavarone says she spoke to the arrested boy's mother, who said that her son "isn't a bad kid and that these are just bad habits." But too often, says Iavarone, "children are effectively growing up without parents."

There's a side of Naples that's a functioning city, with its shiny new museums and rising numbers of tourists arriving. Then there's the other side, a city plagued by blind violence, divided between the assailants and the assaulted. A city where children grow up without dreams, just hoping they won't be the next one attacked.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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